Ophelia Flame, “the Burning Sensation” from Minneapolis and the recently named 1st Runner-Up Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2012, talks rebuilding, improv, competing in Helendale, her first set of pasties, the Twin Cities neo-burlesque scene and peacocks.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: According to your bio you have been taking your “clothes off for friends, family and complete strangers for nearly twenty years” and you worked as a topless dancer in Minneapolis, Chicago, New Orleans and Las Vegas throughout the 1990s. You also studied various dance styles including flamenco, ballet, Latin and smooth ballroom, which makes you a force to be reckoned with! I was wondering, did the dance training come before you worked the club circuit or vice versa? Or did you take dance classes while working the clubs?
A: The short answer is… before, during and after. While I’m not a formally trained dancer, I’ve always been a student of dance. Like a lot of girls, growing up I took some tap, ballet and modern. Eventually I found and fell in love with ballroom dance, especially the Latin dances like cha-cha, tango, rumba and samba. I became a ballroom dance teacher just out of high school. Then in the early 90′s the gentleman’s club Solid Gold opened in Minneapolis. I knew a few dancers who started working there, but I swore I never would. Never say never! How I became a “Solid Gold Girl” is an entirely different story, but I did continue to take dance classes throughout my stripper days, including some Flamenco, which I adore.
Q: You were 1999 Miss Exotic World Runner-Up and competed multiple times at the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Helendale prior to its relocation to Las Vegas. I’d like to hear your input on how the showcase has evolved since then.
A: The pageant has evolved a lot and it’s been exciting to be a part of it since the very early days. How I stumbled across Exotic World in 1999 is quite a story, actually. One of my friends from Solid Gold and I were hoping to find a museum of some sort that had burlesque memorabilia. We wanted to look at exhibits and learn a little more about our foremothers. We thought, “I wonder if something like that exists?” We looked online and found Exotic World. Of course we immediately said WE’RE GOING! A road trip was in order. I was able to connect with Stephanie Blake prior to the trip, and she was so helpful and amazing. When I got there, I was I blown away. These were my people! I had truly found my tribe. It was such a surreal juxtaposition of harsh sun and dirt, timeless beauty and brilliant color. It felt like John Waters or David Lynch could walk out at any moment and yell, “CUT!”
There were maybe 30 contestants in the pageant, which was held poolside. Each of us did two songs to recorded music or a live band. It took all day, and in the blazing hot sun! A lot of the legends were there like Daisy Delight, Tempest [Storm], Rubber Leggs, and of course our beloved Dixie [Evans]! And dear Charlie Arroyo was there. Catherine D’lish did a stunning peacock act with a birdcage shower. What?! I’d just died and gone to heaven! Even though it was a contest, I hadn’t considered winning. I was just excited to be on this crazy adventure surrounded by my beloved crazy, freaky weirdos. I had no idea what to expect performance-wise, so I just did what I’d have done at home at the club. Except I had never worn pasties! I attached a pair of rhinestone earrings and to a piece of fabric and stuck them on my boobs. I also used my Spanish paper fan. The crowd went wild, I got a big trophy and that was it. A monster was born.
I came back to perform in the pageant again in 2004, with as many people from Minneapolis as I could possibly invite. Five years later, the scene had exploded! That was the year Dirty Martini won. 2006 was the first year in Vegas, and though I’ll never forget those Helendale desert sunsets, it was exciting to have some control over the performances with proper stage lighting. (And air conditioning!) The following years progressed with some challenges but have always felt optimistic. I’ve had the privilege of performing for BHoF audiences numerous times, and though it may sound corny, each performance is an exciting new experience and thrill. I’m honored to be recognized as someone who consistently produces quality work.
Q: Speaking of the BHOF Tournament of Tease, congratulations are in order! You were named 1st Runner-Up Reigning Queen of Burlesque at the 2012 festival and your act was absolutely breathtaking. I read an excerpt about the preparation of the award-winning act, and not only did you work with a costumer based in Seattle (which would give most gals palpitations since you’re located in Minneapolis) but you also stated that it was the most personal act that you’ve ever done – one about triumph, personal reinvention and much more. Care to elaborate on those topics for our readers?
A: First, thank you so much. It means a lot to me! And second, well… I will say it was a big, legal, terrifying deal that required that I completely rebuild my life from seemingly nothing. While the story is dramatic, the details aren’t really the point. Life is really just a series problems and it’s your job to solve them. I managed to overcome some pretty great odds but it took a lot of hard work, a positive attitude and tons of love and support from family and friends. Three years later I’m stronger, bolder and more fearless than ever. Everyone should be so lucky to have an experience that empowers them to say, if I can make it through THAT, I can make it through anything!
Q: Last year marked the opening of the Playful Peacock Showgirl Academy in Minneapolis, which you co-founded with Gina Louise. I’d like to hear a little more about your partnership with Gina Louise. How was your first year in business? What’s in store for the future of the Playful Peacock?
A: Awwwwww…….Gina Louise. She is my dearest friend and simply one of the greatest people on the planet. Who wouldn’t want to start a business with someone like that!? I met Gina at an audition for a burlesque show nearly 10 years ago and we just had an instant connection. She’s one of the most hardworking, generous and dedicated people I know, with a seemingly endless well of creative ideas. As producers we have a sort of magical synergy, an intuitive creative process, and we make an awesome team!
We began teaching classes in 2005 simply because we love burlesque and thought others would want to learn. As our local scene and demand for more classes grew, we formalized our school as the Playful Peacock in 2011. The last year has been wildly successful and rewarding. We have the most incredible core group of students and we’re constantly inspired by them! Our classes are geared to seasoned pros, new performers and even people with no interest in the spotlight. In addition to our weekly classes, we have lots of amazing guest teachers and special workshops. Last year alone we had Miss Astrid, Gravity Plays Favorites, Lady Jack, Frenchie Kiss, Tila von Twirl, Ray Gunn, Minnie Tonka, Foxy Tann, Musette, Jo Boobs, Jonny Porkpie, and Miss Indigo Blue.
Q: Speaking of peacocks, I’ve read that you consider yourself “closely related to the peacock.” Why peacocks? I’d like to know more about your attraction to them and identification with them.
A: Are there people who don’t like peacocks?! I love peacocks and especially now that I’ve learned about them in relation to The Phoenix. While working on my latest act I did a lot of research on the mythological phoenix, in particular the partnership between the phoenix and dragon in Chinese culture and art. Fascinating!
Q: Your website mentions that you spent 10 years not knowing what song was about to play before going on stage and because of that, improvisation has become not only one of your greatest strengths, but also brings you a tremendous amount of joy, and that you typically don’t strictly choreograph your acts, but rather “theme” them to leave room for improv. Do you have any advice for performers who feel the need to choreograph every second and could use some pointers on improvisation?
Well, I should be clear. These days I do choreograph my acts… loosely. I start mostly with the entrance, ending pose, big hits and transitions. As time goes on it becomes more fleshed out, but I like to leave a little room for flexibility. I’d say it takes me at least a good 8-10 live performances before I really feel like I own the act. It’s really important to know your music at a visceral level, which is why your selection is super important.
Being able to improv is a great skill, but that’s not to be confused with just winging it. The piece still needs to be confident, intentional and soulful. The legends danced largely to live music and I’ve heard many of them cringe at having to dance to a recording. This is because performing to live music is as present and raw as it gets. If you have a good understanding of music and can communicate with live musicians, it’s really great. One isn’t inherently better than the other. Both can be incredibly moving, and there are benefits to rehearsing to a recorded track that will be exactly the same in performance. What’s important is that it feels and appears organic and real. I liken dancing to live music to jumping into a river. If you let go and allow the current to take you, the ride can be fluid and seamless – but if you fight it, you’ll flounder and possibly drown.
I feel the key to connecting with your audience is to imagine them as a trusted lover and remember you’re having a shared experience. It should happen organically with a natural flow that’s exciting and unexpected. Can you imagine choreographing every single sexual experience?! Weird, right? Strong performers are comfortable with the unexpected. I’ve seen burlesque performers tied to rigid choreography crumble when something unexpected happens. A flawless performance is great and it’s something to strive for, but I think it can be even more exciting when something goes wrong. It can be memorable and fun. You’ve gotta think fast and not panic. Who cares if your corset is stuck? You don’t just stop dancing and turn your back to the crowd. Because guess what? They can still see you, my little hedgehog! Your audience WANTS you to succeed. They’re rooting for you! Allow yourself to be present and share the experience even when – no, especially when – you can’t control it.
Q: You’re known as a founder of the Twin Cities neo-burlesque scene. I’d like to know more about the beginnings and its changes over the years.
A: Things have really blossomed in Minneapolis and St. Paul during the last decade. I’m fortunate to have found Exotic World in 1999 when the renaissance was happening in other parts of the U.S. That early experience combined with events in my personal life paved the way for me to become an important part of the Minneapolis scene. I was no longer satisfied with what was happening in the gentleman’s clubs, I had been searching for a new performance outlet, and in 2003 I met like-minded people at an audition for what became the first new burlesque troupe in Minneapolis. In 2004, I ushered the Lili’s crew to Exotic World where we all made connections we hold dear to this day.
In 2006-2008 our community was under great scrutiny due to archaic laws. This slowed our progress significantly. I know many other towns and cities who have dealt with this as well, and I understand your pain. But my fellow performers and I persisted. We tried as many creative solutions as we could muster: different types of gigs, private venues, playing games with semantics, not playing games with semantics, making phone calls, never giving up! We have the Ritz Theater to thank for opening their doors to us when no one else would, and helping us convince city officials that we are legitimate artists.
My observation is that the cities with established, thriving burlesque scenes share a few important features:
- Someone with an early connection to the budding national community (i.e., first TOR, BHoF in the desert, NYBF)
- Someone with an interest in the history of Burlesque
- A solid burlesque school with ties to the national scene
- A strong arts community
Minneapolis has all those things! It was a great day when I could no longer rattle off the name of every burlesque performer in a single minute, and now there are more burlesque troupes here than I even know. The so-called “high arts” are even starting to embrace us! Well, not always… but that’s okay with me. Taste and censorship are two different things, right?
Q: The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival just had its fifth anniversary this year. What is your role in the festival?
I was a producer and creative consultant for the first three years of the festival, but I could never take credit without noting that like any huge production, it takes a village of hard working people to pull it off! The true creator of The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival, however, was my business partner Gina Louise.
Until about five years ago, most of us Minneapolis folk were kind of floating in the Midwestern abyss. Because of our yearly sojourns to BHoF, our Lili’s crew actually knew more burlesque performers from Seattle than the entire Midwest. We wondered, is anyone else doing this in our region? And how can we get to know those gals from Chicago? We wanted to help burlesque in the Midwest grow. The decision to do a festival was a creative vision with a three-fold mission:
1. Unite our local Minneapolis community (which was somewhat divided)
2. Grow our regional community (helloooooo out there!)
3. Bring national awareness to the amazing performers and quality show production here in Minneapolis
Ding! 5 years later… SUCCESS!
Originally we figured it would be just us Midwesterners who wanted to attend. We hoped that the Chicago and St. Louis crews would join us, and we predicted that performers from Iowa, Wisconsin and the Dakotas would come out of the woodwork. We’re all used to the cold, can drive in a shitstorm of a blizzard, and will gladly rock a pair of heels through ice and snow. So who would have imagined that people from all across the country would apply and come to Minnesota in the dead of winter? Hilarious! I’ve heard some people complain and try to persuade us to move BoMB to the summer months. Many have said they wouldn’t come because it was just too cold. But I won’t apologize for that! Like it or not, our winters are what make us unique. We’re solid, dedicated people with cold hands, warm hearts, limitless hospitality and a zest for adventure. I think even the skeptics were beyond pleased with Minneapolis, and some of them even went sledding.
All good things must come to an end, and last year marked the final production of The Best of Midwest Burlesk Festival. That’s not to say there aren’t other new and exciting projects in the works, so definitely stay tuned!
Q: What’s next for Ophelia Flame?
A: I’m excited to have been invited back to Burlycon in Seattle again this year where I’ll get to teach several of my favorite classes, including “Calm The F*ck Down!” which is about overcoming stage fright. We have a big Playful Peacock show coming up September 15 at the Ritz Theater starring very special guests Roxi D’lite and Minnie Tonka! The show will also feature local performers, a new student group act, local comedienne Shanan Custer as our hostess, and musical guests Courtney McCLean & the Dirty Curls. It’s gonna be amazing! In October, Frenchie Kiss is coming to model for Dr. Sketchy’s and teach a class at the Playful Peacock. And in November we’re planning an incredible student showcase.
In the meantime, I’m in the middle of a crazy but exciting move. (Moving is always a big deal, isn’t it?) After 13 years, we recently sold our house and bought the swankiest party pad I’ve ever seen. I love entertaining and house guests, and I’ll just say that our new home has some incredibly unique features that Don Draper would approve of!
Los Angeles’ own Dizzy von Damn!, Miss Viva Las Vegas 2008, talks evolving, geekery, Iconography, high-fiving Tarantino, hecklers, Jewish cats and pineapples.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You began performing burlesque in 2007, you were crowned Miss Viva Las Vegas in 2008 and you were voted in 21st Century Burlesque’s Top 50 in 2009 and 2010. You really hit the ground running, didn’t you? I’m sure many of our readers who are performers, especially the newcomers, would find that very inspirational. Do you have any advice to offer new performers in the industry?
A: It was sort of a whirlwind, yes. It creates a lot of pressure to keep going onward and upward, but there should be that. I hope I’m living up to it. My advice is always to go to shows, learn as much as possible, do what you’re good at. Doing what you’re good at doesn’t mean always do the same thing though- it’s very important to challenge yourself. I’m always adding and revising- create layers, details, small things that add depth for your audience, especially repeat viewers! Evolve, and know that your acts can do that too.
Q: I’m interested in your background. I saw an interview in which you said that you took dance classes until you were 13 or 14 but that wouldn’t call yourself a “dancer” by any means. Were you a theater kid? I’m just curious how you were able to develop so quickly as a burlesque performer.
A: I was a total theater kid. I did dance classes, voice, piano, theater, community plays- I even went to artist’s camp; at regular camp I would hide in the woods with a book. Nobody liked me! I think I also developed a bit of a class clown persona to deflect some of the weirdness of being very smart and interested in different things. Not to mention I was a good foot taller than everyone else! I was also quite taken with creative writing; I have my Master’s in writing. I think that lends itself to a number of the same skills; storytelling, character development, etc. Some of it is just a sense of being myself; my mother always encouraged me to be unique and proud of it, so I lack a certain ability to do otherwise at this point.
Q: Let’s talk inspiration. You’re known for both classic performance as well as neo-burlesque, and you refer to yourself as “equal parts Gypsy Rose Lee and David Lee Roth.” From whom or what do you draw your inspiration?
A: I’m inspired by people who are brilliant and passionate about what they do; it doesn’t matter what it is. I find people who love life and learning- and sharing both those things- absolutely delightful. Any sort of geekery is good with me. That’s what it takes to be excellent, extreme interest and devotion, and I am inspired by that in all its many forms. Gypsy Rose Lee was brilliant in her evolution- so cunning, how she played to her strengths. David Lee Roth is brilliant in his complete and utter surrender to the show. You don’t have to be a fan of someone necessarily to appreciate their passion and its results. I take a lot of burlesque inspiration from pop culture; I’ve always been very interested in Iconography in real life, meaning how do our icons reflect other part of our personal discussions, how do things connect? What does one story have to do with another? That’s my religion, it resonates from very deep within me: to build webs and correlations, analogies. I have millions of things filed away in my mind, waiting to be connected to something else. I am constantly just moments from going a little Close Encounters and screaming “This means something!” But what does it mean??
Q: Speaking of inspiration, I was amused by an excerpt of a video interview I saw in which you said, “a great deal of my inspiration comes from bastardizing children’s entertainment.” You have acts about Small Wonder (your debut act, if I’m not mistaken?), Mulan, Cheetara, Strawberry Shortcake, James and the Giant Peach and possibly more that I overlooked. I’d like for you to elaborate on that topic for our readers.
A: I always tell people who ask me for advice on music that it is usually best to work with songs that people can recognize, because it allows them to focus more on you and less on what the song is and why you chose it. Same reasoning: these pieces of our collective childhoods allow me to build an act on a premise people understand; it’s a new mythology. Every painter of a certain era painted Jesus- these are my icons and my interpretations of them. It doesn’t hurt that our current culture places significant value on pop nostalgia, so when people recognize the references, they feel in on the joke. It’s another way to include the audience. Perhaps I find children’s entertainment compelling as a burlesque frame because it is only the most necessary parts. Kids have a different threshold for expression.
Q: You also have a tribute routine to the Quentin Tarantino film “Four Rooms” in which you portray Ted the Bellboy and you even had the esteemed pleasure of performing the act for Tarantino himself! I can’t even imagine how nervous you must have been; please tell us about that experience.
A: It was really exciting. That’s a show that truly lives in the details and who better to appreciate them than he and his? During my act I offer an audience member a donut (as Ted does in the QT storyline) and so I offered the donut right to him and he looked a little confused for a second and then exclaimed, “I should take this! It’s in the movie!” and when my act was over all I could say was, “He took the donut! HE TOOK MY DONUT!” He gave me a high five and told me he really liked my act. Then he asked if Robert Rodriguez had seen my tattoos, because he’d really like them. Sure, Rodriguez and I were chatting over a pot of Earl Grey just the other day.
Q: Performance mishaps and wardrobe malfunctions happen to even the most seasoned performers. Do you have any stories to share of problems that happened on stage and how you were able to recover from them?
A: Oh goodness, I have had some moments. I’ve tripped on my duster, popped pasties, had to rip zippers to get out of dresses. Once for an act that required a chair, none was onstage- I had to sit on the floor. It was so awkward. Another night a girl got up on stage and started grinding on me. I just kept dancing until someone literally carried her away. At Viva Las Vegas this year I had an interesting issue; a year or so ago I had foot surgery and was left with some pins holding my joints together. The night before the show I found one of the pins was coming out of the bottom of my foot! It was excruciatingly painful and I had to do the whole show like that. In heels! I was expecting to be crippled like the Red Shoes by the end of the night, but I think (hope) apart from walking gingerly on it, no one could really tell. When things go wrong, I usually I just smile and hope I can figure it out without too much drama. If it’s a big mess I can’t quietly fix, I’ll play it up and get the audience rooting for my success. There comes a point where it’s just more uncomfortable to pretend nothing is happening.
Q: In addition to burlesque performance you’re an accomplished emcee as well. How do you prepare for hosting an event? Do you have any stories where ingenuity was required because you were told to stall for longer than you expected? Any experience in dealing with hecklers?
A: I always fear I’m going to screw up as a host, but so far I’ve been lucky. In order to prepare I research the performers and their acts. I consider the lineup and how those transitions will need to work. That’s another spot where some of my writing experience comes in, I suppose. A lineup is like a plot and it should have an exciting build-up to the climax. That’s my job, as I’m the narrator. But I never script because I’m terribly awkward when I do. I always make notes and have some beats I’d like to hit, but for the most part I host off the cuff. That does lead to some interesting moments when I need to stall. Once I had to stall for over 10 minutes during a setup. I’m pretty sure nobody left. Hecklers are difficult because you desperately want to shut them down, but most of the time they will keep going if you talk to them, so if I’m going to chastise, I like to make sure I do it right. That depends on how bad it is; if I can ignore, I do. There have been other times I’ve waited until a break in the show and gone to speak to people personally, explaining that I appreciate their presence and would duly appreciate respect for the show. That has been surprisingly effective!
Q: I’d like to know more about your adoration for pineapples.
A: I can’t even remember how that started anymore. I love them; they’re the showgirls of fruit. They have headdresses! People always tell me they think of me when they see pineapples, so it’s become something of a brand. They’re a widely accepted symbol of hospitality, which I also enjoy.
Q: According to your blog you have 2 Jewish cats? Please tell us more.
A: Well, I used to have two, but now I have three! The Rabbi Julius was my first, when I moved to California. He’s an orange tabby who loves to be photographed. Recently the vet referred to him as a senior cat and I nearly died. He’s my number one! Leonard Nimoy is the second, he’s a flame-point Siamese and he looks just how you imagine a cat named Nimoy to look. I keep meaning to make him a cat-sized Spock costume. He’s shy, but also the sweetest, most affection-seeking cat I’ve ever had. The kitten is Leeloo Dallas Multipass, and she’s a tortie. People say torties are crazy, and she can be wild, but mostly she is so laid back. She walks on a leash. These three are as close as my parents are getting to grandkids out of me, so that’s why I make sure to note that they’re Jewish.
Q: What’s next for Dizzy?
A: Next… I’m applying to school again. That’s for the non-burlesque part of my life. For the glamorous aspects, I hope to be able to apply to more festivals and competitions, as well as touring. I have a couple of acts I’ve been wanting to do for a while that I’ll probably start working on. One of them involves learning a new skill and I’ve been trying in my admittedly meager spare time, but it’s turning out to be more complicated than I thought! Of course, right? I want to take some dance lessons again, and just in time for the holidays I’d like to train a company of Dik-diks to pull me onstage in a sleigh, and then use their tiny teeth to strip me of my golden velvet robes, all to something by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: That last part is probably a joke.
Burlesque Etiquette with Jo Weldon: Social Media Etiquette for Nearly Naked People
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
Burlesque as it is would not exist without social media. I suppose that’s true of almost all independent entertainment today! With its low cost, big impact, and almost unlimited outreach, social media has enabled performers and producers with very little capital to get started and to find their collaborators and audiences at rapid speed.
Technology has advanced more quickly than we can have analyzed its full effect, and just when you think you’ve figured it out, they’ve changed it! But the basic tenet of etiquette holds true: step back and take a look at your decisions and imagine how you’d evaluate your actions if you saw someone else taking them.
Online etiquette is covered regularly on the internet, and we’ll touch on a few of the most common concerns, with a particular eye toward what happens when people are nearly naked.
As always, rest assured, all of us have made these mistakes from time to time. Think hard about whether your profiles are professional, personal, or a mix, and it will help you consider ways in which some of these issues might apply.
1) If your online profile serves you professionally in any way, keep it less personal than you otherwise might. The lines between professional and personal get legitimately blurred in the burlesque community, where most people who perform together frequently are also friends, but remember that if your stage names is your profile name, any producer, performer, or investor who researches you will come across it. Yes, there are privacy settings, but too few people apply them with any finesse. Also, rest assured, if you have more than 200 friends, some of them aren’t really friends, and even if they are, it’s safe to assume that one in ten of your genuinely loving friends is a gossip. Bickering with your partner online is just about as unprofessional as it gets, and your friends are embarrassed for you. Occasionally being vulnerable — “I had such a bad night, I need some love!” — can be endearing and is sometimes well in order, but airing your entire emotional life might not be great for your career.
2) Think twice before you advertise your event or service on someone’s personal wall. This should go without saying. I’ve seen some interesting ways of trying to get around it — “I heard you were shopping for a car” — but generally speaking, if you’re likely to get more business by posting it on their wall than by messaging them privately, your motives are suspect.
3) Don’t assume that because you don’t mind if people post ads for their shows or services in your group or page, they shouldn’t mind if you post in theirs. They are entitled to run their page however they like. Before you post, go back over their page through a few days, and you will be able to tell very well how the page is intended to be used.
4) Post pictures judiciously. I discussed this already in my article on photo etiquette, but it bears repeating. Nudity and near-nudity will have entirely different effects on the viewers live than it in a still photo. Also, tagging people in these photos may put their account at risk–no matter what a social media’s policy is on Wednesday, it could change or be enforced differently on Friday. Also, if their act has a pastie punchline, you may be revealing too much of their act.
5) If you have an issue with something someone posts, particularly a professional issue, it is not necessarily inappropriate to respond online. However, name-calling is useless and makes you look foolish and out of control. Describe exactly what bothers you and leave them an opening to respond, and your opinion will be more respected, and your chances of repairing your relationship with that person in the event of a misunderstanding or otherwise fixable situation will be greater.
6) Consider refraining from blind tweets or posts. I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again. When you say, “I can’t believe some people are doing a monster themed show for Halloween when they know I’m doing one,” or anything statement in which everyone knows who you’re talking about and you know they do and they’re meant to, you look like you’re afraid to confront the person, and you need to gather support from a bunch of online groupies before you have the nerve to address the situation. If you’re trying to use such tweets or posts to intimidate or control a situation, you should know that it doesn’t work and you stand a chance of losing the respect of the people who read it.
7) If you are making a serious business proposition, it is probably better to use personal email than direct messages, simply because the user has more control over it. Most people on Facebook are thoroughly confused about why they are getting so many announcements about shows in other cities, etc, in their FB inbox. Your message stands a good chance of getting lost in the torrent. And let me say once more, for good measure, do NOT use texting shorthand in professional messages, even on Twitter.
8) It’s probably not a good idea to make someone look bad on their profile. If someone owes you money, and you haven’t yet asked them about it, or they’ve told you they’re trying to get it to you, or you are in many other ways still in conversation with them, don’t post on their wall! The only reason I can think of to post on their wall, and it’s still not a great one, is if they’ve stopped responding to your emails and calls. I say it’s still not great because it shows you visibly angry and out of control, which is not a good professional face. It may well be in line, if no resolution is made, to make a public statement about their business practices to help other people avoid being in the same situation, but be very careful about your phrasing and motives. Be very clear about what constitutes libel and slander. If you can’t prove it, don’t say it online–that’s a public statement and if you’re wrong they can sue you.
9) Don’t make personal comments under photos or flyers such as, “Wow, I guess we’re all getting older, aren’t we?” You’d think this would go without saying, but…
10) Don’t hit on people on their Facebook walls or make creepy comments under their photos. Unnnnnnkay?
As always, I hope you’ll add your opinions and etiquette concerns in the comments!
by Kitch Coquette
It was the summer of 1998. I was nineteen years old, and I had just finished my first year at college. For financial reasons, I was spending the summer months waiting tables and living with my parents. After finding free-will in college and wisely putting it to good use (aka debauchery), this return home was tortuous.
Funny how I rarely go to the gym these days, but then, if it meant I could escape my parents’ watchful eyes, I would spend at least two hours a day exercising at the gym. One afternoon, I was on the elliptical machine when I caught a glimpse of two incredibly hot looking 20-year-old guys. Each of them were running on treadmills, and there was an empty treadmill right between them. I decided to make my move.
Now, don’t kid yourself. I’m not a runner. My boobs are way too big to effectively run. I’m more liable to put my eye out with the inevitable bouncing than I am to actually cross a finish line. But for some reason, my desire to impress those two hotties made me think I should try running.
I got on the treadmill, flashed a brilliant smile to each of the two guys (who were clearly checking me out by the way), and then I started a slow jog. I quickly realized, however, that the two hotties were running at a pretty high speed. To avoid looking like a weakling, I increased my speed. I caught at least one of the checking me out as I bounced along next to him.
Still, I wasn’t going fast enough to keep up with them. I jacked up the speed one more time. I was running faster than I had ever run before (which isn’t really that fast). And then it happened. I came down wrong on my left ankle, and my leg buckled under me. I uncontrollably lunged forward as my legs were quickly carried behind me. I grabbed the frame of the treadmill, and for a few seconds, I held my upper body off the track while my legs dragged along. I tried to pull my legs upwards, but it was no use. My arms gave way, my body hit the track with a giant thud, and the treadmill carried me like a crumpled rag doll to the floor.
The two men jumped off their machines to come to my rescue. Perhaps I could have used this to my advantage, but I couldn’t even make eye contact them. My legs were killing me, I was aching all over, and my pride was utterly destroyed. I got away from them as quickly as possible, limped to the locker room, and cried in a bathroom stall for at least 15 minutes.
How does this have anything to do with cooking? Not much. But if you ever have a flirting disaster, just remember it can’t possibly be as epically embarrassing as this. The other thing to remember is the best way to flirt is to be yourself. If I had just remembered that I do much better flirting in the kitchen, I might have just baked those two beautiful men some of my famous Kahlua chocolate pecan pie bars. I’m pretty sure I could have won them over that way.
Kahlua Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars
What you need
3 sticks of unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
PECAN PIE TOP
6 large eggs
4 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
2 tbsp. kahlua
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp vanilla extract (I use double strength vanilla extract)
4 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups pecan halves
1/3 cup chocolate chips
What you do
FOR SHORTBREAD BOTTOM
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 12 by 17-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Using a mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter for one minute on medium speed. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add flour and salt and mix on lower speed until fully incorporated but still crumbly.
FOR PECAN PIE TOP
4. Bake until set, about 25-30 minutes.
5. Leave on counter to cool to room temperature.
Beloved Emcee and costume goddess Cora Vette, owner of Denver’s one stop burlesque shop VaVa Vette, gives us the lowdown on how to create your own custom shrug.
I love corsets. I live for them. I love to make them. I love what they do for my figure. I do NOT love what happens to my armpits when I wear them. If you are a curvy gal, you know what I am talking about. So, I started making these shrugs to add some volume to the top of my outfits to balance the bottom. I always wear short circle skirts (usually made of vinyl) and I love what these shrugs do for the top of my corseted outfits. They are pretty and pretty easy to make if you have basic sewing skills.
This month’s DIY will show you how to make these pretty corset toppers.
1) Start with a 10 inch wide (or larger or smaller based on personal preference) length of fabric. I like to use tulle because you can cut it cleanly and not worry about hemming the fabric as it will not unravel. For this shrug, I was using a glitter covered tulle that I chose to trim with bias tape. You do not need to do this step, but, I find that the finished product looks nicer. I used 2 layers of tulle around 10 inches wide by around 8 feet long. The length can be anything you like. When you gather it, more fabric will be fuller, less fabric will create a more subtle effect. It is really up to personal preference.
2) Place the layers on top of each other and sew a gathering stitch where you want to place the fold. For this shrug, I put the gathering stitch about 4 inches to one side and 6 inches for the other so one side would drape nicely and the other side would form the collar. A gathering stitch is 2 long stitches side by side. I set my machine on 4 which is the longest stitch. Make to long straight seams side by side and then pull the bobbin thread (the underside) to gather the tulle.
3) For me, gathering the shrug to 1 yard (36 inches) works well and is enough for the shrug to make it across my neck and shoulders and around to the back a little bit. Experiment and see what length is perfect for you.
4) After gathering, lay the shrug flat and pin a ribbon (or bias tape) over the stitches and sew on both the top and the bottom of the ribbon. This secures the gathering stitches in place and creates a pretty finish to your shrug, and no, that is not a glass of wine in the background. Ok, yes it is, it was late.
5) Put it on! Here is what the finished product looks like on a dress form.
A shrug can be made out of many different materials. Let your creativity run wild! For more, check out VaVaVette’s website at www.vavavette.com. Happy sewing!
xoxo Cora Vette
by Ladonna Stein
1. Part the hair on the side. A very deep part was a popular style in the 20′s. You would sometimes see it almost on the side of the head.
2. Using a curling iron or hot rollers, starting at the part, roll the hair all in the same direction around the head. The smaller the curling iron barrel, the tighter the wave will be in the end. Set your curls with pins and allow them to cool in a rolled up position. This would be a good time to do makeup while the curls set.
3. Take out the pins and brush or comb the hair straight down. All the curls should come together to form waves. You can leave it like this for a looser, Hollywood hair effect (like worn by Dita Von Teese).
4. For more of a 1920′s finger wave, use a comb and hairspray to sculpt and perfect the waves. Start at the top of the head and work your way down, holding down the top waves as you sculpt the lower ones. Use bobby pins to create more dramatic curves. Just be sure to try and hide them in the hair. You can also use clips to hold the sprayed waves in place while they dry.
5. For the ends, hold end of the hair against your hand and comb it all in the direction you want it to lay. If your hair is long, you can pin it under in the back. A hairnet is a great way to help keep it in place for the rest of the day.
Welcome to our second Burlesque Roundtable. (Did you miss the first?) The hope is to create an open dialogue to discuss relevant burlesque questions in an honest manner. Have a questions you would like to propose or two cents you would like to throw into the ring? Please do so via comments; we would love to hear from you!
Q: In order for burlesque to continue to grow as an art form, to be taken seriously, and to keep burlesque growing in popularity, the number one thing that must change is ______________________________ .
Violet O’ Hara (Dallas) The number one thing that must change is our level of professionalism when conducting business. Communicating in a respectful manner and conducting all business transactions with integrity would help our community to grow and be recognized as a serious art form.
Roxie Moxie (Austin) I do think we need to get more serious about our art. Gone are the days when a girl could just walk back and forth on a stage and strip out of a store-bought Leg Avenue costume and call it “Burlesque.” The Burlesque market is saturated now and audiences expect more. You’ve got to be a skilled artist – offer something unique and unexpected to your audience if you want to be taken seriously as a performer.
Trixie Minx (New Orleans) Ladies not supporting ladies is by far the greatest weakness I’ve seen in burlesque. It’s sad really.
Jo Weldon (NYC) The number one thing that must change is respect. It bores me when people who’ve been performing for a long time tell young performers what they’re tired of. Why should new performers care, if they’re not being treated with respect? They don’t need anyone’s permission to do as they like. The more experienced performers aren’t coming to the newer performers’ shows, for the most part, and the newer performers’ audiences aren’t jaded and they’re THRILLED to see some of this stuff more experienced performers think is old hat. BUT On the flipside of that coin, newer performers should take some time and get to know what proceeded them–it’s mighty annoying when they call themselves “the first ever all-live-music neo-burlesque show!” or think they’re big rebels or massive geniuses against classic burlesque because they’re doing some punk rock or political protest thing we all did fifteen years ago, or references to current pop culture that burlesque has always done. It’s just a matter of respect, perspective, research, and being true to what moves you. Do it; but just get over yourself, whether what you need to get over is that you think you’ve done it all or you think you’re the most innovative thing ever even though you haven’t done a shred of research besides going to one show and copping an attitude!
The number two thing that should probably change is resistance to critique. Having someone in the dressing room tell you you’re a genius won’t help you improve as a performer.
The Reigning Queen Of Burlesque, Imogen Kelly, talks pink flamingos, performance art, popping burlesque cherries at the Sydney Opera House, and plenty of other dirty deeds done “Down Under”.
Interview: The Dirty Blonde
Q: Your performance at Burlesque Hall Of Fame Weekend was flawless –a fun, cheeky, high-energy routine full of pink feathers and lots of sass (and ass!) that had the audience on their feet. Were you surprised by your win, or did you feel when you took the stage that this was your year?
A: Thank you! I love that routine, I always have such a great time performing it, without fail. It’s like watching a cyclone hitting a flamingo flock—5 minutes of fluffy, pink, slightly-absurd-but-somehow-sexy, leggy mayhem.
The great thing about performing it is that I never have time for nerves as I am usually pretty preoccupied having fun. The music is so high energy, I just get carried away. I didn’t expect to win simply for that reason. Flamingo-Go is fast paced and technical. I guess I must make it look easier than it really is. Its strengths are that it’s fabulous and rather saucy too, if I do say so myself.
Q: You have toured very extensively around the world, but have less experience with American audiences and less exposure overall in America. Were you concerned that would be a factor during the Burlesque Hall Of Fame Competition in Las Vegas?
A: Of course! I was competing against performers who have a strong rapport with American audiences and therefore possibly the judges as well. Even I went into that competition with favorites and was thrilled that I was up against performers I have so much admiration for. I certainly wouldn’t have been sore if I lost to one of them. It wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest.
That being said, one thing I do know about myself as an artist is that I’m a dark horse in any race. I would never enter any competition thinking I was going to win; I’m never that arrogant and it can lead to a hard fall if you lose; but I never underestimate my acts either. I’m a highly trained performer with over 20 years of experience in burlesque. I just try to do my best and let the work speak for itself. You can go in telling yourself you’re the best, but there is no way to know you are going to win and you never know what you are up against. Just offer your audience the best of yourself.
Q: People are talking a lot about the fact that an Australian was finally crowned Queen. Do you think it’s significant that you are the first non-North-American to win the Queen Of Burlesque title in years? What do you think this will mean for the Australian burlesque scene?
A:I think it is essential for the competition to be embraced globally at this point, for its growth and also for its integrity. It is an absolute delight to share what I do with American audiences, who may not have realized that burlesque has been thriving for generations in other pockets of the world. I would hope eventually that BHOF would be the event that would bring the whole burly world together- all for one big dirty weekend! Australia is certainly very proud of me. And I am proud too—not just of my win, but as Queen of Australian Burlesque I am proud of the circuit and style that I have pioneered. I am proud to be presenting that internationally.
We are different in so many ways in OZ. Our audiences are tough and expect a high level of presentation, personality, energy and skill. So for Captain Kidd to win last year, and now myself as Reigning Queen of Burlesque 2012, I should think people would be sitting up and paying attention to what is going on in OZ.
As for my return home, I may as well have had a ticker tape parade- people were just so gorgeous. I am being called “The Don Bradman of Burlesque” which is hilarious. Don Bradman is one of our national heros, also an underdog who took the pommies by surprise in the battle for The Ashes. The burlesque scene is very alive with excitement. It has meant a lot that one of our pioneers has been recognized on such a huge level. So yes, everyone is very pleased with themselves down under.
Q: What is it like to perform in an environment like BHOF? Do you find it more intimidating to perform for your peers, or is it energizing to be in front of a huge audience that is so passionate about burlesque?
A: BHOF is a massive thrill, with such an electric atmosphere it is impossible to describe. The audience is the most deafening, insanely supportive, warm, happy audience EVER!!! And I mean that. The Colosseum in Rome would crumble under the wake of that sound. If that audience were before the walls of Jericho, Joshua would be turning around and asking them to turn it down a touch.
It was hearing them scream and cheer that made me want to blow their minds. I wanted to throw it all right back at them and be worthy of such adulation. I’ve played stadiums that have made less noise… so I wasn’t intimidated. I was turned on to my maximum setting.
I will add that the stakes are higher when your audience is full of people whose opinions matter to you personally. I think what mattered to me even more was that there were so many Aussies out there, fellow artists who are close to me who had flown all that way and spent thousands of dollars just to cheer me on. I could hardly let them down now, could I?
A: Lordy, I have about 200 routines sitting around my house. I love all of them. So in choosing for BHOF I originally wanted something grand, where I could show off my theatre or circus skills but in the end I was beaten by rigging technicalities and freight. So I opted for Flamingo because even though it has no heavily constructed character and no wiz bang tricks, it has a lot of classic burlesque elements that seamlessly work together. It took 8 years or so to finally solve the flamingo act; so I knew it was a solid act—entertaining, glamorous and distinctively mine.
Marie Antoinette is my favorite act ever. I performed her last year. I love her because she is my signature act of 20 years and she is very much a part of me–the monstrous part! My Marie is an evil bitch diva who essentially f*cks a cream cake. She was the first Marie Antoinette in burlesque so I also take pride in the fact that she has inspired so many others to do a Marie Antoinette act. Having a Marie Antoinette act is almost as obligatory these days as having a champagne glass routine or a fan dance. It makes me smile. I’ve infected burlesque with my monster.
Q: Aside from winning the Queen of Burlesque title, what do you consider your greatest burlesque achievement? What other performances, productions, or current projects are you most proud of?
A: My most memorable moment would have to be my wedding. We shut down the city of Sydney and took over one of the main streets to be publicly wed in front of tens of thousands of people.
My husband to be cruised in on a dragster with a rose between his teeth to I Was Made For Loving You Baby. I was pushed at high speed in a giant cake on wheels to the alter where I finally burst out in a red satin gown with a 4m train. I was then hoisted onto the stage by two of my carny friends on stilts. When we came to saying the vows I tore off my frock leaving a few strategically placed pieces of lace much to my parents’ horror.
That was a fun marriage and the celebrations didn’t end until the next morning when some of us were ejected from a club into broad daylight for running around the club in the nude. So we then ran around on the street nude… I still don’t know what those bouncers were thinking.
Other than that I performed at Sydney Festival in Hyde Park, this time in front of a hundred thousand people. I did 4 acts, was on huge screens, it was nuts. I also popped the Sydney Opera House’s burlesque cherry, performed and traveled with The Famous Spiegeltent for many years… training circus with Romanian gypsies was interesting and of course being the first stripper to graduate from The National Institute of Dramatic Arts is an instant milestone—although they had no idea I was a professional stripper until quite a way into the degree… hehehe…
Q: You have had a long rich history of performance experience. You’ve been involved in theater shows, burlesque troupes, kick lines, have written countless plays and screenplays…the list goes on and on. Did you always know you wanted to do burlesque, or did it grow from a general love of theater?
A: When I was 15, I used to joke to my careers adviser at the convent that I wanted to do stripping for work experience. I just liked watching her get red in the face. I started burlesque as a teenager on the strip circuit. There was no scene when i started. Actually, I was the scene. It was my humble beginnings as a performer and although I have worked in many different genres, strip-based performance is the base note to my work.
Q: You also describe yourself as a “performance artist”. Do you prefer that description to “burlesque performer”? What does that term mean to you?
A: I am a performance artist. I perform on many different levels in many different genres of performance so it is important people realize my burlesque is just one of the lines of acts I produce.
My performance art is satirical, socio-political, feminist driven character Epics—where yes, much to the audience’s joy, I end up naked… My burlesque work is geared for pure entertainment, lots of fun, sexy, big costumes with a massive wow factor. I’ll always find some way to get slightly twisted if I can.
I will always prefer work that is subversive over straight striptease, but I do have corporate, tamer work that is more accessible. If you are going to perform for a living, you have to be adaptable and diverse.
Q: We all have burlesque idols that we look up to. Are there any other performers that have been a particular inspiration to you throughout your career? Any legends that you are in awe of, or contemporary performers that you really admire?
A: I draw inspiration from so many performers. When I started working in sleazy, violent,dingy clubs I would carry a picture of Camille 2000 in my wallet to remind myself that at some point striptease had been gorgeous. I love Camille. II also love Lily St. Cyr who I have drawn comparisons to my entire career. I think she is stunning. I’m always humbled if I draw comparisons to any legends.
At the moment I am inspired by Dr. Lucky and Glita Supernova- because I miss doing bent work and am working up a new act for the queer fringe in OZ. Dr. Lucky blew me away in Toronto. Glita Supernova always blows me away.
A: The touring is fun and fabulous and takes a lot of planning to get right. So I’ve put out some feelers and I’m waiting to see what comes back to me. My aim is to work with Indigo [Blue] to try to make the Queen’s Tour international. I’d also love to see the burlesque museum in Las Vegas grow to become a must see attraction in Las Vegas. These aspirations could take a few years. I’m also looking at avenues to create a bridge between performance artists in Sydney and New York—an exchange or a residency. All of these things may take years to come to fruition but from my experience, I just set a ball rolling and wait for it to pick up speed.
As to my career, I am looking into all sorts of things from TV appearances to a PHD. I always have a lot on the boil. I got asked to ride through the city naked on a horse the other day… my response was “not at a trot, not without a bra.”
Q: You have quite a full burlesque calendar these days. How do you spend your time when you’re not performing? Do you have other hobbies? Being so busy, how do you unwind?
A: Pft!!!Unwind??? I don’t get to unwind! There is no unwinding. LOL! The trick is to not get wound up in the first place. I’m pretty zen.
As burlesque is my art, and I love my art, I spend free time these days planning new and wonderful events for the Australian burlesque community, like my Living History events, Bent Burlesque (Queer female performance) and a showgirl archive of Aussie artists that I hope one day to exhibit. I make puppets and costumes for myself, draw, paint—in truth I don’t have much free time as there is always so much I want to do and it usually revolves around performance.
Q: You also have a young daughter. What advice do you have for other performers with children? Is it difficult to travel with her? What does she think about burlesque? She must be in love with the costumes, especially the incredible flamingo!
A: It’s funny you should ask. She has taken to calling my hands flamingos and talks to them all the time. She feeds them and cuddles them which is sweet— unless you are trying to write on the computer. I love that she gets exposure to so many amazing, creative women. I do try to keep her away from burlesque, though, simply because she is a child. Burlesque is adult entertainment and it needs to stay that way.
Contrary to what I believed in my pre-mommydays, having a child is the most creative and empowering thing I have ever done. It is also perceived as being the most pedestrian thing a woman can do, so I’m disappointed that some peeps have such an issue with it. I thought this movement was all about breaking down taboos, not adopting more of them.
My advice would be more for the burlesque community in general. If one of your pals gets knocked up, don’t abandon them. Being a new mum is quite lonely . It gets even worse when you realize that your friends don’t support you. I guess really you just find out who your real friends are, but I also think in a culture that is so much about empowerment, women being defiant and strong, we come up a bit short when it comes to accepting motherhood. We don’t all want kids, nor should all of us have kids, but if your girlfriend has a bub, don’t let her be lonely. Be a pal and invite yourself over for a cup of tea. You don’t have to offer to wipe arse or cook scones. You’re not intruding. A conversation with another adult can help remind you of who you really are.
Q: And, finally: What one question have you always wished the media would ask you? Can you please ask and answer it now for your PinCurl fans?
The best piece of lady advice I ever received was in etiquette class at the convent; “a lady never swears, or gets drunk at the races.”
So whatever you do don’t become a lady, it’s obviously a really un-fun decision.
Lula Houp Garou, an ingenue with ingenuity, talks Chicago vs. Dallas, the pros and cons of the festival circuit, therapy, and why “Life is the ultimate DIY project”.
Q: You recently relocated from Chicago to Dallas. What are the differences in the two communities? Have you notices a regional tastes issues (IE I’m booked more for _____ in the South than I was in Chicago)? What is your advice to gals who relocate and have to start at square one establishing themselves as professionals in the industry?
It was a rather wonderful coincidence that my partner’s job just happened to relocate us to a city where I was already somewhat familiar with the local burlesque community. I had actually just made my DFW [Dallas/Ft.Worth] debut earlier in the year, when I had the honor of performing as a Feature at the 2011 Dallas Burlesque Festival! Also, I was already “festie-besties” with a few local burlesqueteers, who helped me out enormously by answering all of my nervous queries about the city, performance opportunities, neighborhoods to look into while househunting, the best spots to shop for essential “stripper supplies”, etc. (“Festie-Besties: the glittery, booze-soaked version of summer camp romances, which slowly blossom from mutual crushes into genuine friendships as you spend more and more time together backstage and/or after-partying in various cities.)
So when I found out that I would be moving, I was really fortunate not to be starting back at square one. If anything, moving to Dallas has actually helped to jumpstart my career. I equate it to moving out of your childhood home or hometown – it’s scary to leave the safety and familiarity of your comfort zone, but you have to do it in order to find the space and autonomy to grow into the person that you’re meant to be. It’s been a bittersweet transition – I really do miss my Chicago burlesque family, but it feels so very liberating to be able to spread my wings (no Hitchcock pun intended) in a new city as an established professional performer. Since moving to Dallas, I feel like I have finally started to come into my own, and I think it’s because I’ve finally given myself permission to. After 4 years of burrowing into my designated role as the token variety ingénue, I’m finally starting to take more risks, experiment with new aesthetics, and explore my identity as an artist. So many exciting irons in the fire!
All that being said, it might have been a very different story if I had moved to a city where I wasn’t already connected with the local performers and producers. My advice for performers attempting to establish themselves as professionals in the industry – regardless of whether they are planning to relocate – would be to focus on establishing yourself as a member of the national (or even international) burlesque and vaudeville communities. Start from a place of humility and respect. First, do your homework – familiarize yourself with the other members of the national and regional burlesque communities, so that you know what’s already out there and can focus on what else you can bring to the table. Watch performance videos on Youtube and Stripcheez, connect with other performers on Facebook, read Pin Curl, 21st Century Burlesque, historical burlesque biographies, and anything else that you can get your hands on. When you do start to put yourself out there, take it easy on the gratuitous self-promotion. When do you promote, do so with grace and self-awareness. Don’t try to market yourself as a phenomenal professional performer if you’re really more of an ambitious local player with loads of potential. (False advertising is annoying and disrespectful, and furthermore, it doesn’t actually work in the long run. You may be able to trick people into believing your inflated hype for a little while, but eventually it will catch up with you when you don’t deliver the mind-blowing experience that you promised.) Once you have an act that you really believe is deserving of being showcased in a larger market, then start applying to festivals. Go to Burlycon. Go to BHOF. No one owes you a spot in their festival, show, or community – you have to earn it with your talent, professionalism, and demonstrated ability to act like a decent human being. But once you do find your place in the national burlesque community, it really does feel like a big family. That’s a reward in itself, and it’s just a bonus that if you do happen to relocate, you’ve already got friends in other cities who can help you access the resources that you’ll need to get established in your new home.
As for regional tastes, I’ve found that Chicago and Dallas have a pretty similar ratio of classic and neo-burlesque. I do find it easier to pitch more mainstream acts in the South, while Chicago has more of a market for niche acts. One of my most well-received acts, “The Birds”, was originally created as a one-off for Hot & Heavy’s Classic Horror Films show, and I believe that Ray Gunn’s “Morpheus” act and Bazuka Joe’s “Thundercats” were both first developed for Hot & Heavy’s Sci Fi Striptacular. (My contribution to that show was a schoolgirl-ninja hooptease to “Yoshimi battles the Pink Robots”, in which I defeated actual cardboard robots with my LED hoop. I still plan to resurrect that one sometime and revamp it with a bladed hoop and other surprises.) Dallas is home to the annual burlesque show at All Con, and I know that the Lollie Bombs have been producing edgy, creative work for years, but in general, DFW seems to skew a little more towards the mainstream. I’ve actually been trying to debut my new Tardis act (Doctor Who) for months, but the reference seems to be a little too obscure to play in most of the local shows. I thought that I might have to wait until All Con next yet, but am so excited to get the opportunity to share it with the Viva Dallas Burlesque audience at the September Red Carpet show.
One rather notable difference between the two communities is that Dallas producers are lucky enough to have access to gorgeous historic theatre venues for ticketed shows with budgets that can accommodate fair wages for the performers, while for whatever reason, the majority of Chicago shows tend to be free bar shows or smaller budget shows in storefront theatres. It’s been such a treat to tread the boards of The Lakewood Theatre and The House of Blues, and I’m really looking forward to making my debut at The Kessler in a few weeks. It’s been so gratifying to finally get to perform my larger prop acts on a regular basis, and to be able to start planning even grander new acts! And it’s been heavenly to get to change in real dressing rooms with proper lighting, mirrors, and space to stretch out! (Although I do think that it builds character to pay your dues by changing in greasy kitchens, tiny restrooms, musty basements, poorly lit changing nooks, etc., when you’re just starting out.)
I’ve also been delighted to discover that DFW burlesque fans are incredibly friendly, supportive, active members of the burlesque community. We even have our own honorary “Mayor of Burlesque!” Chicago does have a few devoted “superfans”, but in general it’s a very different fanbase culture. I suspect that this is due largely in part to the fact that most of the shows are so much smaller in scale. Larger productions in lavish theatres are simply more likely to attract a dedicated following, because the audience can consider their ticket purchase an investment in a fabulous personal experience. They can get dressed up, go out to dinner, then enjoy a top-notch show and a fancy cocktail from their comfortable seat. Basically, they can really make a night of it, like people used to in the heydays of showbiz. It’s far more to ask of a fan that they come out and stand for several hours in the back of a crowded bar or nightclub. You can’t really do that in your most fabulous heels or cutest vintage wiggle dress, so there’s simply not as much opportunity to participate in the collective experience of glamorous escapism.
As for similarities between the cities – okay, let’s just go ahead and acknowledge that bedazzled pink elephant in the room: it’s no secret that Dallas seems to be experiencing a bit of a social rift that directly parallels the one that exists in Chicago. Elaborating further would be tantamount to airing dirty laundry, which I won’t do, but I will offer this advice to all members of any community that’s experiencing a division: please try to resist the temptation to jump on bandwagons or pick sides. Unless the conflict in question directly affects you personally, there is no reason why it should affect your ability to work with both sides in a neutral, professional manner. You should seek out opportunities to work with anyone whose work you respect, and then form your own educated opinions, based on your personal experience. We’re not in middle school anymore – you don’t have an obligation to shun total strangers out of loyalty to friends. (Especially if that total stranger happens to be a well-respected industry figure whom you could stand to learn a thing or two from!) Doing so only hurts you as a performer, and the community as a whole.
Q: You recently spoke online about your experiences with the festival circuit. You have performed in several U.S. burlesque festivals- have you received a return on the investment? What are the pros/cons of this approach to “getting your name out there”?
I have performed in 17 North American burlesque festivals (16 in the U.S., 1 in Canada) in the past 4 years. (To put that in perspective, I did this while holding down a full-time job and also performing in an average of 5-8 local shows per month!)
Here’s how most of my early festival trips worked: I would dole out my vacation time festival by festival. (I haven’t taken an actual vacation in the past 4 years, because I never had any vacation days or money left over. I chose to make that personal sacrifice in order to be able to attend festivals.)
I would usually take that Friday off work so that I could drive to the festival and save a little money. On Thursday night I’d Tetris my oversized props into my beat-up little car and drive anywhere from 5 – 15 hours across the country, fueled by sugar-free Red Bull and whimsy. I would arrive in my destination city at some unholy hour, strung out and sleep-deprived. Since I was broke (and growing even more so with each festival acceptance e-mail), I would check into a youth hostel instead of a hotel. These were often grand old mansions that had been converted into colorful bohemian refuges for travelers who were traipsing the world on a shoestring budget, and therefore not particularly fussy about amenities. I once stayed in what was originally the servants’ quarters – read: attic – of a drafty Victorian house in Minneapolis in the dead of sub-zero January. I was excited to discover that the glass chandeliers matched my Jellyfish pasties. I also romanticized my way through a stint in an un-air-conditioned shack in New Orleans during hot, swampy September, because it stood in the courtyard of a wonderful French Quarter mansion. I had to walk across the courtyard to use the communal showers and toilets, which were often graced with puddles of vomit by young backpackers who were drinking their way across America. (Ah, the glamorous life of the jet-setting burlesque festival performer!) Still, it was worth it. I’d spend the festival weekend exploring the new city, performing, watching shows, getting absolutely drunk on inspiration, taking as many workshops (and notes!) as I could, and forcing myself to step outside my introverted comfort zone to chat with other performers. (Please note that sleeping and eating did not occur frequently enough to merit inclusion on that list.) On Sunday, I’d pack everything back into my little car and drive home to Chicago. I’d go in to work on Monday morning, completely wrecked and running on about 3 hours of sleep, but still basking in the glittery afterglow.
It was wonderful, and terrible. I wouldn’t change of minute of it, but I can’t really recommend it as the healthiest approach – for your sanity, your body, your personal relationships, or your bank account.
The benefits of this approach were that I saw a great deal of burlesque, in a wide variety of styles, by performers from communities all over the world. I learned so much and was inspired each time to take that knowledge home and work harder to raise my own bar higher. I also got to share stages, dressing rooms, and conversation with hundreds of other performers, and some of those acquaintances became friends. (See above re: “festie-besties.”) As time went on, some aspects of festival-hopping became easier. Instead of roughing it alone in a cheap motel or hostel, I piled into a decent hotel room with 4 or 5 other performers to keep costs down, or accepted the generous offers from local performer friends to crash on their couches or air mattresses. This not only helped out financially, but also allowed us to spend more time together and develop real, lasting relationships. Most of my dearest friends actually live in different cities scattered across the country. So in that regard, I can definitely say that I have received a return on my investment in festivals, in the form of wonderful friendships and a truly fantastic artistic support network of people that I would never have met otherwise.
In terms of seeing more business-related results, I can absolutely say that I have seen a direct return on my investment, in the form of out-of-town bookings, higher profile bookings, and eventually, higher pay rates. I do have concrete evidence of this, because producers of shows, burlesque festivals, and corporate events have mentioned in their booking inquiries that I caught their interest when they saw me perform a specific act at a specific festival.
Have I recouped all the money that I have spent on festivals? Not at all. Do I still consider the investment to be worth it? Absolutely.
However, festivals don’t run on love and magic. One major drawback is how expensive they can be. Even if you do it as cheaply as possible and have friends to crash with, you still have to factor in airfare (or gas, plus mileage and general wear and tear on your car), food (it adds up, especially if you don’t have access to a fridge and have to eat most of your meals in restaurants), drinks (let’s face it, in our community, networking = after-partying), tickets to the shows (if the festival does not comp performers in, which is sometimes the case), and unexpected incidentals. (It’s easy to get swept up in the moment and splurge on sparkly “investments.”)
The other dark side of festivals is that you can get sucked into what I call the “glitter validation illusion.” We are in the business of selling fantasy, and it can be a slippery slope into believing your own hype. It’s very tempting to buy into the self-perpetuated illusion that we’re all very fancy people and that our burlesque idols truly live and breathe the effortless glamour that they are so adept at portraying on stage. However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that even the Queens of Burlesque still have to hustle performance gigs, teach classes, model, make costumes, etc., to pay for their swarovskis. I’m not trying to discredit them – quite the opposite. I personally believe that we should honor them by recognizing their hard work and life-long dedication to their craft. I also believe that it can only help our entire community to set the record straight, because then newer performers will be applying to festivals for the right reasons. I’m not proud to admit that I have personally experienced (and witnessed fellow performers experience) the phenomenon of “festival validation” and “title addiction” – the misguided notion that the road to success is paved with festival acceptance letters and titles. While these honors are certainly not without merit, I think it’s important to keep in mind that a festival application selection committee is composed of regular people with their own personal tastes, and so is the panel of judges who decides whether you or your competition most deserves the title of Grand Sparkly Empress of the Anywhere, USA. Also, your landlord doesn’t really care if you’re the Grand Sparkly Empress of Anywhere, USA if you still can’t pay your rent. Meanwhile, your landlord might be the Grand Groovy Emperor of the Bowling Lanes – does that impress you? Probably not, but I bet he’s a demigod in the national bowling community. Again, I’m not discrediting the value of anyone’s titles or festivals, I’m just suggesting that we all try to keep one stiletto planted firmly in the real world, so as not to lose perspective.
Q: Who are your burlesque/vaudeville role models and why?
The Ziegfield Follies, for their whimsical costumes and larger-than-life spectacle.
Follies Bergere, for their opulent pageantry.
Mata Hari for having the moxie to reinvent herself as an exotic Javanese court dancer and essentially build an entire career on a foundation of the illusion of glamour.
Vicky Butterfly, for her ethereal elegance, innovative vision, and refined sensuality.
Medianoche and Lady Jack for their specificity on stage – every single moment is fraught with intention.
Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann, for their imaginative, theatrical burlesque productions.
Annie Cherry & Damian Blake, for their commitment to honoring the history of vaudeville while fostering a revival in their community.
The Stage Door Johnnies, for their commitment to excellence in all aspects of their work, and for being some of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet.
Spiffy Kins/Mae the Bellydancer, one of the unsung heroes of the Chicago burlesque community, for being one of the most creative, talented, passionate, kind-hearted, generous, humble, wise people I have ever met. I owe more to her than I can ever repay.
As far as role models slightly outside of the burlesque and vaudeville communities, I am endlessly inspired by The Yard Dogs Road Show, Lucent Dossier, The Vau de Vire Society, Zen Arts, The Indigo, Beats Antique, The Neo-Futurists, Sarah Ruhl, the designers at Gibbous fashions, Christina Mocillo of Black Lotus, Lana Guerra of Crude Things, Allyson Garro of Coco Coquette, Amelia Foxtrot and Angeliska Polacheck of Vintant Vivant, and the producers and performers of decadent events like The Poetry Brothel and Dances of Vice.
Q: We spoke not to long about the “performance plateau”. That place you get to a few years in where you’re a little jaded, anxious, and confused about your burlesque career. What is your advice for performers who are struggling with the plateau? How do you break the funk?
Honestly? If you can afford it, therapy. (I don’t understand the stigma against mental and emotional health care in this country. We take our cars in for oil changes and tune-ups, we go to our primary care physicians and dentists for routine check-ups and teeth cleanings, yet we are somehow expected to maintain optimal mental and emotional health entirely on our own.) Unfortunately, my personal “artistic existential crisis” occurred after I moved to Texas and made the leap to being a full-time performer and model, with no health insurance and a starving artist’s bank account balance. So in lieu of professional help, I took a lot of long, hot baths, did a lot of soul-searching, and compiled an angsty ipod playlist that I entitled “Growing Pains.” (Billy Joel’s “Vienna” is an auditory balm for your soul. Apply liberally and repeat as necessary.) I also took advantage of the opportunities that festivals provided to spend time with trusted peers and mentors from the national community, confessing my concerns to them and asking for their advice.
In the end, the answer that I arrived at was incredibly simple – and overwhelmingly daunting: Just do what you love. Work from a place of authenticity and create acts that are personally fulfilling, rather than trying to cater to other people’s preferences. (E.g. “I need a heavily classic act if I want to get into this festival”, “I need a neo act if I want to get into this festival”, “I need to win titles if I want to get higher profile bookings and quit my day job”, “I need to lose 20 pounds and conceal my tattoos if I want this producer to book me”, etc.) That kind of skewed thinking is so toxic, and what makes it even more dangerous is that it’s actually very difficult to recognize when you’re doing it. You’re so busy patting yourself on the back for being a savvy businessperson that you forget to check in and ask yourself whether you’re actually happy.
Q: If you could have dinner with any 5 people living or dead, who would they be and why?
I was going to stay Anais Nin, Diane DiPrima, J. D. Salinger, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut, but then I realized that I have no idea whether they would actually make charming and delightful dinner companions. So I’m going with some of my absolute loveliest friends in the burlesque community: Musette, Lady Jack, Viva La Muerte, Spiffy Kins/Mae the Bellydancer, and Naughty Natanya.
Q: If there’s a Lula Houp Garou legacy 30 years from now, what would you want it to be?
That it is possible to blaze your own trail in order to manifest your dreams. Your life is the ultimate DIY project.
Four years ago, I was treading water. I was disenchanted with the theatre community and couldn’t seem to find my true path. I was struggling with a never-ending battery of mysterious ailments (that would later turn out to be due to undiagnosed food allergies) and was overweight, unhealthy, and depressed as a result. I was stuck in a soul-sucking cubicle job that made me want to bludgeon myself with office supplies, but allowed me to surreptitiously spend my days surfing the internet and living vicariously through the blogs of other artists who had the type of bohemian, adventurous, whimsical lifestyles that I craved. So I started taking bellydance classes as a way to try to get in shape and get back in touch with my own body, and proceeded to fall down the rabbit hole. Everyone associates Chicago with it’s impressive theatre and improv scene, but it’s actually also home to an amazing underground world of interconnected “fringe” arts communities. Through bellydance, I found the secret door into the labyrinth of the burlesque, circus, cabaret, fetish, steampunk, and burner communities. One of my bellydancer friends asked me to take a 2 hour “Intro to Hoopdance” workshop with her, and I agreed to, just for fun. I was surprised to discover that I could keep the hoop going, despite not having picked one up since I was twelve. I took a few more beginner-level classes, and have occasionally received pointers from friend and hoop artiste extraordinaire Dizzy Lizzy Delicious, but mostly I taught myself by watching youtube video tutorials and practicing over and over until something clicked. I never intended to become a burlesque performer, but then somehow I found myself pushed out on to the stage of a Chicago gay bar, entirely encased in a homemade full-body foam Iron Man suit. After ripping off the burlesque band-aid, I decided to try to develop my own style of burlesque-circus fusion, and the rest is history. This year, I had the unbelievable honor of making my BHOF debut in the Movers, Shakers and Innovators Showcase. … and I’m still broke. I’m still paying my dues, and trying to learn as much as I can from whomever is willing to teach me. I’m still figuring it out. But now I spend my days making magic, or posing as a muse for other artists intent on bringing their own enchantments to life. I count so many creative, talented, inspiring people as friends and peers, I get to experience all manner of wonder on a regular basis, and I can honestly say that I love my life.
We couldn’t think of anyone’s advice we’d rather take than Miss Jo “Boobs” Weldon, Founder of the New York School of Burlesque and author of The Burlesque Handbook, which is why we’re thrilled to have her as our Burlesque Etiquette contributor! Have a question you’d like Jo to answer? Please title your email “Etiquette- _your issue___” and send to editor [at] PinCurlMag [dot] com and we will send them right over to her!
Etiquette for out of town performers and the people who love them – Part I
When I was a headlining stripper, clubs hired me for various reasons: to bring atmosphere to the club, the draw clientele curious to see the centerfold, and on occasion, I was to discover, simply as a vehicle to launder money through the feature dancers’ pay.
In burlesque, producers report an even wider range of reasons for bringing headliners to their shows and festivals. People hire headliners because they know them, or because they want to get to know them, because they’ve worked with them a lot, or they’ve never worked with them, because they love their work, because they think they’ll be a draw, because they think they’ll help create buzz around the show, because they want a seasoned performer, because they want a titled performer; because they want them to teach, because they want them to get press, because they like their aesthetic, because they think they have to…the reasons are endless, and each producer has his or her own motivations.
What is the etiquette for bringing in a headliner? What is the etiquette of BEING a headliner?
It varies—almost everything I say here will be contradicted by another producer or headlining performer. But these are the things that most producers say they take into account when hiring a headliner.
Approach: Contact the performer as far in advance as you can. Give them as many details as you can up front—date, number of times you’d like them to perform, whether you want them to do personal appearances or classes, and the events you anticipate having during the weekend. Let them know if you’ve done the festival or show before, and let them know who you’ve worked with so they can get references if they feel the need. Don’t be insulted if they feel the need—traveling to perform is tough and the performers try to avoid surprises to any extent they can!
Etiquette of Booking a Headliner:
Offer: Be prepared to make an offer if the performer does not have a standard fee. They will let you know if they can be flexible. If they ask you to talk to a manager or agent, don’t take it as a diva move—they are just trying to be professional. If you negotiate, it probably won’t work to play hardball; there is rarely enough money involved for them to be attracted to a situation where they’ve been made to wonder if they’ll be comfortable. Be as honest and direct as possible and they’ll negotiate if they can.
Contract: Use a contract. There is no surer way to know that both of you have the same understanding of terms and conditions. If you have to wait for them to sign it, each time you make an inquiry be sure to attach it to the email again. Everybody, not just headliners, gets so much email today that even the most organized can miss things in the shuffle.
Keep in touch: If you email and they don’t respond within 48 hours, send the exact same email again as if you hadn’t sent it. If it’s urgent, let them know.
Prepare: Be prepared to pay for their travel, including expenses such as luggage and cabs to and from airports in both cities. Provide comfortable lodging and a meal or two if you can. It may be appropriate for them to stay with you, or they may require a hotel—this is very individual. Keep in touch with them during the planning process to make sure everything is as expected for both of you.
Care take: Do your best to make sure they have what they need to prepare to perform at their best: lodging convenient to the venue and rides; water backstage, and snacks if it’s a long show (vegetarian and gluten free are likely to be concerns); ample time to get from one event to another; and, if you want them to be at a certain part of the event, be sure they know about it. Don’t just expect it; you’ll have to communicate. Make sure the schedule permits them to get enough sleep and time to run through their numbers.
Follow up: Feel free to check after the show and ask them how their experience was. They may not do the same; it’s much more common for a producer or venue to ask for feedback than a performer.
Respond promptly. Answer emails and phone calls immediately if possible, even if just to say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” Keep your word. Remember what you said you would do, and do it.
Look stylish when you show up. You’re the headliner—do what you can to add pizzazz every step of the way. One of my favorite moments during traveling was when the Pontani Sisters showed up to breakfast all three in scarlet velour track suits with rhinestones spelling out their names on the back, and matching cell phones. You don’t have to go to extremes, but don’t be sloppy.
Take the job seriously; put your run-through ahead of sightseeing. Ideally there will be time to sightsee, but if there isn’t, you are, after all, not on vacation.
Do not take other gigs on the producer’s dime without checking in. The producer who flies you in and puts you up has every right to request that you not perform in other shows. If you get an offer, let your host know; they may be interested in the opportunity to share expenses with the other producer. But whatever their response, respect it. You wouldn’t be in the neighborhood of that other producer if you hadn’t been flown in.
Be gracious. Traveling can be exhausting, but there will be people at the show who are interested to meet you, and likely even some fans. While you shouldn’t be expected to mingle while you’re preparing to perform, you should be as friendly and patient as you know how to be.